V. I. Lenin : Collected Works : Volume 6 : January 1902 - August 1903
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The English, and then the British, had dedicated themselves for centuries to ensuring a divided Europe; this was the latest decision in that line of thinking. Yet, as the British historian Paul Kennedy rightly argues, in the short-term from this point a clear difference emerged in British policy regarding the continent. Britain would not stand by and watch should France be losing to Germany. The differences between front- and back-bench Liberal parliamentarians can be overestimated: a basic belief in 'peace' remained inherent to British Liberalism. The key difference was on what that 'peace' should entail.
Between and , for instance, the Government faced a series of challenges to its foreign and defence policies. By the Naval Estimates had begun to rise again, heralding the oncoming European naval arms race, while its substantial Army Reforms were greeted with scepticism by some influential supporters including several senior ministers. Frustrated by the Government's difficulties, successive individual Liberals such as F.
Hirst, editor of The Economist , 24 and prominent regional groups such as the Liverpool Reform Club, 25 called for a return to retrenchment. Ps and M. Ps calling on the Government to reduce armaments were presented to Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith the later replaced Campbell-Bannerman as Prime Minister in April Why this continuing march towards militarism?
Scott replied that while many thought there was 'too much at stake' to turf out the Government, 'to acquiesce in that or anything like that as a standard would wreck the party'. Among the old Liberal Leaguers in the Cabinet though, the attitude was that peace must be allied with the continuation of national security. In Edward Grey spoke in the House of Commons, defending the controversial heavy rise in the Naval Estimates that year.
Belief in Liberal principles though, to their eyes, did not negate the wider duty to ensure national safety. The situation, Grey informed his audience, was serious:. No superiority of the British Navy over the German Navy could ever put us in a position to affect the independence or integrity of Germany, because our Army is not maintained on a scale which, unaided, could do anything on German territory. But if the German Navy were superior to ours, they, maintaining the Army which they do, for us it would not be a question of defeat.
Our independence, our very existence, would be at stake. There would be an immediate depression in trade that would affect not only capitalists but workmen' […] The Territorials, he assured them, were organised 'not for aggression He appealed to employers to take the larger view of life, and realise what they owed to the State as citizens'. By contrast their opponents were divided. Few were as committed to peace as to risk Britain's defence. A Morris, in his Radicalism against War: , paints a picture of a sobered group of radicals once Asquith had lain out the potential risks involved during the debates of early John Ellis, a radical and former minister, recorded that:.
Our men scattered like sheep.
I do not think at that moment five Liberals would have voted against increase The only thing to do was to tide it over. The 'People's Budget' marked the beginning of two years where finance and constitutional affairs would dominate British politics. It also marked the final period where it would, arguably, have been politically safe for the radicals to attempt to bring down the Government.
In two general elections left the Unionists and Liberals tied on seats each. The Government was kept in office then by the mercurial support of the Labour and Irish Parliamentary Parties. This had a curious effect on the Government's relationship with its radical backbenchers. Beforehand, with a majority of M. Now, with a majority guaranteed by the Irish, the Government could theoretically be toppled at any time.
All the more reason, one might think, for the Government to be wary of its disenchanted backbenchers. Yet the Government was only right-wing on overseas issues. Domestically it was increasingly radical — pushing through a National Insurance Act in that proved controversial among even its own supporters.
Ministers continued to indicate that reducing arms spending was a possibility too. In Haldane went on a 'Mission' to Berlin to try and engender better relations with Germany; a year later, Winston Churchill called for a 'holiday' from Naval spending. Was it really worth destroying this Ministry over the Estimates so that a Unionist Administration could be brought in? The Opposition was opposed to most of the Government's social reform legislation. On defence affairs, its members at this point were both openly and privately holding that the Army was around 50, men too small.
In , for instance, Campbell-Bannerman suggested in a journal article that with the Hague Conference on International Disarmament recently finished some work could be done on reducing Britain's armament spending. The Daily Mail then the best-selling newspaper in the country commented in an editorial that the nation had not given the Government permission 'to weaken its Navy for the sole purpose of providing funds for doles to the Socialists'.
They were also preaching against a strong presiding narrative; that the increasingly strong and challenging German Empire could not be completely trusted. They also lacked a charismatic leader without Gladstone there to guide them. Hope was put in Lloyd George and Churchill. They were the 'watchdogs of economy' in the words of The Manchester Guardian.
By and the Franco-German crisis of that year, he and Churchill were busily plotting how to use the British Army to reinforce the Franco-Belgian forces they assumed would be opposing the Imperial Germany Army, 40 as the Chancellor publicly admonished the Reich.
Of the backbenchers meanwhile, some objected to the Government's actions for financial reasons; 41 some supported a more pacific foreign policy. To give some idea of their relative political standing, the anti-armament Cabinet minister Lord Beauchamp First Commissioner of Works, was referred to as 'Sweetheart' by the Prime Minister, after the 'little dog' in King Lear. They never called the talks off though, which continued up to Parliament was beginning to professionalise among other considerations — in the radical and strongly anti-armament M.
Arthur Ponsonby had to turn down an invitation to become Chairman of the National Peace Council as he thought he would not have enough time to be an M. P and the Council's Chairman. An extra-parliamentary 'Liberal Foreign Affairs Committee' was formed, alongside a 'Radical Foreign Affairs Committee' also known as 'Lord Courtney's Committee', after its founding chairman, a leading anti-armament campaigner.
Brunner used his position to campaign on behalf of radical beliefs on foreign policy. Before an NLF meeting in Nottingham on 26 th November , he spoke of the need for peace and armament reduction.
On 17 th December , for example, a deputation of forty backbenchers led by the anti-armament radicals Leif Jones, Percy Molento, J. With them they had a memorandum with a hundred signatures in favour of service retrenchment. A Morris credits the Liberal Foreign Affairs Committee with forcing the Government to agree to a general debate in the Commons on its foreign policy.
Whereas in and the petitions had the support of one hundred M. The NLF had no formally binding powers on the Liberal leadership. It could express forcibly put opinions, but they were only opinions.
If the Liberal leadership felt itself strong enough to ignore what the NLF was suggesting, it could, and, as indicated above, neither Brunner nor his allies ever managed to find that combination of favourable circumstances, coherent argument and charismatic leadership necessary to carry the country with them. The Liberal benches were not immune from nationalism.
One Liberal M. P resigned in to fight a by-election in favour of military conscription this was the maverick Capt. Malcolm Kincaid-Smith. He lost. Not all radicals were pacifists, or pacific-minded either, and at times radicals attacked each other across the floor of the Commons.
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Josiah Wedgwood was, socially, impeccably radical — he later became a Labour cabinet minister. Yet at the beginning of World War One he wrote the following to his local paper, the Staffordshire Evening Sentinel :. Liberals like myself, love liberty My political work has all been directed to the securing of economic liberty for the worker.
I must now leave that struggle to others and to my children. There is other more elementary and more painful work to be done for liberty. It has to be done. All who think like me ought to take part. They had no charismatic, substantial leader around which they could unite. They had no agreement among their wider faction of the Liberal Party as to what position to take on this subject.
They were part of a party with its own strong problems in overseeing and scrutinising this particular area of Government business. They were met too by unhelpful circumstance, especially in the aftermath of the General Elections. That they got as far as they did seems to have been a testimony to the extent to which a desire for peace was still part of Liberal politics.
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